Marigold flowers and saffron add such a sophisticated and captivating charm to these otherwise pretty ordinary crispy cornmeal shortbread cookies. The distinctively unique flavor and golden hues of both marigold and saffron lend a subtle nod to the enormous flavor and flair of Middle Eastern and South Asian food and culture. This recipe for cornmeal cookies is gluten-free, vegan, and can be made sugar-free with an easy substitution.
The hardest part? Make sure you use the marigolds that taste good! (More on that below!)
SEARCH THIS ARTICLE:
Edible Flowers, Meet Cookies
Marigold vs. Calendula
Health Benefits of Marigold Flowers
Health Benefits of Saffron
How to Make Edible Flower Cookies
Recipe for Marigold & Saffron Cornmeal Cookies
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Edible Flowers, Meet Cookies
The simple addition of edible flowers to any food or drink is an almost automatic 5-star status. They can add just the right amount of finishing flair to your botanical cocktails or you can stir them into your cake batter for edible flower confetti. Alternatively, toss them in your salad to add color and interest. Or preserve them in salt, honey, sugar, or vinegar to add a floral touch to your kitchen staples.
And when you’re staring at your culinary creation thinking “it just needs something else, but I’m not quite sure what,” the answer is undoubtedly flowers. Whatever it is, it probably needs some edible flowers.
But not only are edible flowers so incredibly versatile in their use, but they also bring many nutritive and medicinal health benefits to your plate.
You might not often think of health benefits when you think about edible flowers, but some of our most common, everyday plant medicines are, indeed, flowers! For example, where would our anti-anxiety teas be without calming chamomile and lavender flowers?
And summer just wouldn’t be the same without the quintessential antioxidant-rich hibiscus flower iced tea.
And likewise, this recipe for simple cornmeal shortbread cookies is leveled up in a big way by flavorful edible flowers (or technically, parts of the flower in saffron’s case).
Plus, they come with health benefits too!
Marigolds vs. Calendula
First of all, let’s clear things up. Calendula flowers may often be referred to as marigolds or pot marigolds, however, marigolds and calendula flowers are technically different.
While in the same plant family, calendula is in the Calendula genus and the marigolds we’re using in this recipe for cornmeal cookies are in the Tagetes genus. The Calendula genus is much smaller and only includes about 15-20 species, whereas the Tagetes genus included around 50 or so species.
They’re easy to tell apart by their physical differences and even the smell of their flowers. While calendula flowers tend to be a little sweet-smelling, marigold flowers range from slightly pungent and maybe even a little bit spicy to downright unpleasant.
And how do you know which marigolds taste good? You got it; the best way to find out is by tasting them.
While you’re munching on the flowers, here’s a little bit about their health benefits.
Health Benefits of Marigolds
The use of marigold in medicine is much more common in Ayurveda than it is in Western herbalism. It seems we consider it much more of a garden flower than medicine. Nonetheless, marigold has a long history of medicinal use.
Marigold flowers are a potent source of carotenoids, the pigment that gives marigolds their beautiful yellow, orange, and red colors, which also happen to act as incredible antioxidants in us humans.
Other herbal actions or medicinal qualities of marigold include:
In medicine, marigold is commonly used to treat respiratory, urinary, and skin disorders.
Health Benefits of Saffron
Saffron threads are actually the dried stigmas of the saffron crocus, Crocus sativus. These tiny little threads are one of the world’s most expensive spices due to how labor-intensive their harvest is. With three tiny little stigmas per plant, saffron is typically hand-harvested when the flowers bloom in the fall.
Like marigold, saffron is also antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. It has many health benefits and is being studied more and more for its potential beneficial effects on:
- heart disease
- psychological and behavoiral disorders such as depression and anxiety
- neurodegenerative considionts such as Alzhiemer’s and Parkinson’s
- eye health
- reproductive health
How to Make Cornmeal Cookies with Saffron & Marigold
This recipe for cornmeal cookies comes together quickly. The most time-intensive part of making these cookies is decorating them with edible marigold leaves and petals.
You can get really creative in arranging the petals and leaves in beautiful designs if you’re into that kind of thing. Otherwise, I find it quickest to place the leaves on decoratively and then just sprinkle the petals around. Because the petals are so tiny, they can be difficult to handle with our fingers. However, if you have a pair of food tweezers or tweezer tongs, these can make your artistic vision come to life much easier.
Here’s a quick rundown of how to make this recipe for marigold and saffron cornmeal cookies. If you’re ready to skip ahead to the full, detailed recipe, skip ahead to the recipe card at the bottom of this post.
Equipment You’ll Need:
- Mixing Bowl
- Measuring Cups & Spoons
- Rolling Pin
- Wax Paper
- Parchment Paper (I highly recommend always using an unbleached parchment paper. It’s another easy way to eliminate your exposure to toxins through your food.)
- Cookie Sheet
- Thin Metal Spatula
- Cooling Rack
- Optional: Tweezer Tongs (A good pair of tweezer tongs can make carefully arranging small decor like flower petals or perfectly placed thyme leaves enourmously easier than using your fingers.)
- All-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All-Purpose Baking Flour.)
- Finely Ground Cornmeal (Do not use coarse grind cornmeal or polenta.)
- Granulated Cane Sugar (Or substitue with a sugar-free granulated sweetener. My fave is Lakanto Monkfruit Sweetener.)
- Fine-Grain Sea Salt
- Vegan Butter (I used organice Earth Balance.)
- Saffron Threads (I used Diaspora Co.’s Kashmiri Saffron. You can read more about this amazing company in the FAQs.)
- Fresh Marigold Flowers & Leaves (I harvested these from my garden. If you don’t grow marigolds, perhaps you have a friend that does!)
- Make the saffron butter. Use your fingers to crush the dried saffron threads into the softened vegan butter and then use a fork to mash it all together. Once mixed thoroughly, set it aside while you pull the dry ingredients together.
- Make the cookie dough. Mix the dry ingredients together thoroughly and then add the saffron butter. After the ingredients are throughly mixed, use your clean hands to knead until until the mixture holds together and a smooth dough forms. (If the mixture is too dry, add 1 teaspoon of water at a time until the dough is just wet enough for it to hold together.)
- Chill the dough. Warp the dough tightly in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes.
- Roll the dough & cut out the cookies. Roll out the dough between two sheets of wax paper to ~1/4 inch thickness. Then, cut out cookies to your desired shape and carefully place on prepared cookie sheet. Repeat the rolling and cutting process until all the dough is gone.
- Decorate the cookies with fresh marigold leaves and petals. Gently press the leaves and petals into the cookies. Then to better get the marigolds to stick to the cookies, place another sheet of wax paper on top of the cookies and use your fingers to gently rub the petals and leaves into the cookies in small circular motions.
- Chill the cookies before baking. Place the cookie sheet in the freezer for 10 minutes and then straight onto the center rack of the oven.
- Bake, cool, and enjoy! Bake the cookies for 9-11 minutes, then allow to cool on the cookie sheet for 5 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack and finish cooling to room temperature.
Love Baking with Botanicals? Try These:
Elderflower Shortcake with Blackberry Smash
Hibiscus Banana Bread
Stinging Nettle Cake
Elderberry & Thyme Corn Muffins
Elderflower & Peach Upside-Down Cake
Is polenta the same as cornmeal?
Almost! Polenta and cornmeal are nearly identical except for one important thing: grain size. They are both made of ground corn, but while polenta is typically a much coarser grind, cornmeal tends to be a much more finely ground product.
However, you’ll also find a range of cornmeal products at the grocery, from coarse to fine grain. It can be a bit confusing, as polenta may also be called coarse-grain cornmeal.
For baking, you’ll generally want to use fine-grain cornmeal that is almost flour-like, but not quite. If you use coarse-grain cornmeal in your baked goods, you’ll likely end up with uncooked bits of cornmeal in your goodies.
Where can I find edible marigold flowers?
The single best place to get edible marigold flowers from is your own yard. Marigolds are incredibly easy to grow and not only do they add such sunshiney cheer to your garden or yard, but they’re also edible, nutritive, medicinal, and moonlight as pest control.
Or maybe your neighbor grows them and is willing to trade for some cookies? Wherever you harvest from, ensure that you’re harvesting from areas that aren’t treated with chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or fungicides.
Alternatively, you may be able to find fresh, organic marigolds from your local flower farmers. You can really use any edible flowers in this recipe. However, marigolds lend such a distinct flavor to their cornmeal cookies that is unmatchable.
Why is saffron so expensive?
Saffron is well-known to be one of the world’s most expensive spices. This is generally because harvesting saffron is such a labor-intensive process. Those tiny little threads of saffron are typically harvested by hand. Plus, as a South Asian spice, saffron will typically travel many miles to get to your kitchen. For these reasons, I think it’s important to consider sourcing your saffron from companies that participate in fair-labor practices.
And the good news is that a little bit of saffron goes a long way. Good quality saffron is incredibly potent and will typically last you quite a while if stored properly.
Where can I find saffron?
One of my favorite companies to find ethically sourced South Asian herbs and spices from is Diaspora Co.
Their supply-chain transparency and mission to create a more equitable spice trade that benefits both people and the planet are so inspiring. Plus, the quality of their spices will blow your mind.
Try their Kashmiri Saffron which their website states is grown by Raqib Mushtaq on his family’s 3.75-acre farm in the historic saffron district of Pampore.
Nonetheless, you can also typically find saffron in the dried herb and spice aisle of many groceries, including Trader Joe’s.
Are all marigolds edible?
Yes, but not all marigolds taste good. Some sources say for the best flavor grow the following varieties:
- French Marigold (Tagetes patula)
- Gem Marigold (Tagetes tenuifolia)
- Mexican Mint Marigold (Tagetes lucida)
However, I have not had the pleasure of testing this. My best practice is to just taste them. Always ensure correct plant identification for your safety.
Help! How do I stop my cookies from spreading?
These shortbread cookies are full of butter and when butter melts, it spreads. A quick and easy antidote to this is to pop your cookie sheet with your ready-to-bake cookies on it into the refrigerator or freezer for 10-15 minutes before you pop them in the oven.
Doing this will re-solidify the butter and help the cookies hold their shape much better as they bake. It works every time; don’t skip this important step.
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Marigold & Saffron Shortbread Cookies (vegan & gluten-free)Course: DessertDifficulty: Easy
Marigold flowers and saffron add such a sophisticated and captivating charm to these otherwise pretty ordinary crispy cornmeal shortbread cookies. If you don’t have access to marigolds, you can substitute them with any edible flowers, however, the flavor of these cookies will be quite different.
1/2 cup vegan butter substitute (like Earth Balance)
~10-12 saffron threads, crushed between your fingers
1/2 cup finely ground cornmeal**
1/3 cup granulated cane sugar***
1/8 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
4-6 sprigs of fresh marigold flowers with leaves (washed & dried or dusted for dirt & debris)****
- Make the saffron butter. Use your fingers to crush the dried saffron threads into softened vegan butter and then, use a fork to mash the saffron into the butter. Mix thoroughly and then set it aside while you prepare the dry ingredients.
- Make the cookie dough. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients and then add in the saffron butter.
Use a fork or wooden spoon to mash the butter into the dry mixture. Once fully incorporated, use your clean hands to knead until the mixture holds together and a smooth dough forms.
>> If the mixture is too dry, add 1 teaspoon of water at a time until the dough is just wet enough for it to hold together. You do not want your dough to be overly wet or sticky.
- Chill the dough. Form the dough into a ball, then wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 375℉. Prepare a cookie sheet by lining it with unbleached parchment paper.
- Roll the dough & cut out the cookies. Roll out the dough between two sheets of wax paper to ~1/4 inch thickness. Then, cut out cookies to your desired shape and carefully place them on the prepared cookie sheet. Repeat the rolling and cutting process until all the dough is gone.
- Decorate the cookies with fresh marigold leaves and petals. Gently press the leaves and petals into the cookies. At this point, it’s okay if they don’t fully stick to the dough.
After you’re done decorating, to get the marigolds to stick better to the cookies, place another sheet of wax paper on top of the cookies and use your fingers to very gently rub the petals and leaves into the cookies in small circular motions. Then carefully remove the top sheet of wax paper and discard.
- Chill the cookies before baking. Place the cookie sheet in the freezer (or refrigerator) for 10 minutes and then straight onto the center rack of the oven.
- Bake, cool, and enjoy! Bake the cookies for 9-11 minutes, checking them after 9 minutes. The cookies are done when the very edges around the bottom of the cookies start to turn a light, golden brown.
Then allow them to cool on the cookie sheet for 5 minutes before transferring the cookies to a cooling rack. (Trying to transfer them right away may result in broken or misshapen cookies.) Allow the cookies to cool to room temperature on the cooling rack.
Store leftovers in an air-tight container at room temperature for 5-7 days.
- *GLUTEN-FREE FLOUR: I made these cornmeal cookies using Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All-Purpose Baking Flour, although any all-purpose blend should work fine. Nonetheless, I can’t guarantee the same results if using another flour.
- **CORNMEAL: Make sure you use finely ground cornmeal, not coarse grain or polenta, or you could end up with crunch bits of uncooked corn in your cookies. >> In a pinch, you can throw your polenta or coarse grain cornmeal in a blender or food processor and process it into a finer grain.
- ***SUGAR SUBSTITUTE: You could also use a sugar substitute like a monk fruit and erythritol blend. My favorite is Lakanto Monkfruit Sweetener.
- ****FRESH MARIGOLDS: Ensure that the marigolds you use are organically grown and harvested from areas not treated with chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and fungicides.
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DISCLAIMER: The information given in this article is intended for educational purposes only. Always consult with your healthcare practitioner before consuming certain herbs & medicinal foods, especially if pregnant, nursing, or taking any prescription medications.